Unmanned aerial vehicles and control bases
The term UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) and drone
are often used to describe these unmanned systems. Some of the first uses of a drone where in the Vietnam War. They gathered intelligence by flying in a straight line or circles taking pictures that were recorded on a film or tape on the aerial vehicle. Upon flight completion the data could be retrieved and used by command for troop deployment and air force strategic deployment. They were not a UAV in the true sense that a ground operator could not remotely control the aerial vehicle. The modern UAV will combine both autonomous flight mode and real live ground control.
G.P.S. way-points are used to program the UAV to fly a pre-planned flight path. This is especially useful when weather conditions do not allow ground control clear vision for direct viewing of the terrain. Hyper spectral imaging and infrared cameras assist the UAV operator to quickly and easily target ground objects and determine if they pose a threat.
The UAV and drones are very useful as they can sustain flight for an extended period of time unlike a modern military jet. Refueling needs and pilot fatigue limit the modern jet to a few hours of flight time normally. If in combat or needed to stay aloft longer, in-flight fueling can be done by way of a aircraft fuel tanker. This is a very high risk and dangerous procedure and is not used unless the need is great. Some bad incidents while mid-air refueling has happened resulting in the loss of one or both aircraft involved. Drones and UAV's have no human crew. Although the loss of an air vehicle may be expensive, no loss of life will incur if an incident brings the vehicle down.
The modern UAV can be equipped with a variety of sensors
including chemical sensors, electromagnetic sensors, and biological sensors. They can also utilize hyper spectral imaging, infrared, HD (high definition) and still cameras. Advanced radar systems are also used on some units. The military UAV can be equipped with a variety of weapons as well. This can include hell-fire missiles and bombs. Advanced technology can also see the use of "smart bombs" where the weapon can be guided after release from the aircraft. These were sometimes used in the Iraq war where they targeted bunkers and the most vulnerable spot of entry to maximize the blast and destruction. Hardened bunkers can have many feet of concrete and re-bar making penetration very difficult even for modern convectional weapons.
The UAV is a very effective tool for low level flight also. This is very dangerous for modern jet aircraft but an easy task for the unmanned aerial vehicle or drone. They can fly very slow if needed compared to most modern jets. The Lockheed Martin F-35 can fly slow or land vertical but pose a big target for would be terrorists or enemy fighters. Slow flight is not recommended in active war zones as antiaircraft batteries equipped with heat seeking missiles can lock onto aircraft and quickly knock them out of the air. These aircraft employ radar jamming technology and use low radar signature in an effect to foil the anti-aircraft systems. The modern UAV has many advantages over the convectional jet. The jet pilot how ever though still is needed to quickly asses a developing situation and determine the best approach or deployment of a given situation.
Aerial dog fights are mostly a thing of the past. Advanced technology will recognize a potential threat from many miles away and missiles or other weapons will be used to eliminate the threat. The civilian market is a fast growing industry deploying the use of drones and the UAV. They have many possible applications. Most recently used for border patrol security, they are now taking an active role in many other applications. This can include crowd monitoring for police, where as a trouble spot or people can be viewed and ground units can then be quickly sent to diffuse a situation before it becomes uncontrollable.
The oil and gas industry is realizing the potential of unmanned aerial vehicles ability to monitors gas plants, refineries and pipelines. Hyper spectral imaging can detect environmental changes that are not normal or spot a potential problem. Pin hole leaks in a pipeline can be detected and maintenance can be preformed before a possible rupture causing millions in damages in clean-up and possible environmental damage. Inspections from the ground that took days and many hours of man power can now be done with an aerial survey.
In some remote areas such as northern Canada, many pipelines and wells are only accessible while the ground is frozen. Muskeg and deep mud limit access in summer time. This is where drones and the UAV can quickly cover an area where it make take days or weeks of ground monitoring to inspect facilities. Bush and undergrowth may also hamper inspectors from spotting a possible problem.
An aerial view using HD or infrared cameras over comes this problem. Highly sensitive biological and chemical sensors can also detect any possible small leaks. Farmers and ranchers can easily view their pastures and range. They can determine where there live stock is and any potential threats to them. View where the grass is most plentiful and move their herd where they can feed from the best pasture. This can all be done from the comfort of their home using a drone or UAV.
Water inspection on rivers, lakes and the oceans can be done easily and cost effectively. Sports adventurists can monitor river rapids and determine if it is safe to attempt a canoe or kayak run. The applications for the UAV and drones is virtually endless.
Recently a lost child was found using a civilian UAV. A helicopter included in the search was not able to spot the lost child because of low flight hazards from trees and brush. The small civilian UAV was able to get really low and take pictures. Upon examination the child's clothing color was seen and searchers where able to pin point the location. Full autonomous flight with auto deploy and return make flying these new drones and UAV very easy.
Previous RC flying helicopters and planes needed an experienced operator and were very prone to crashing and total destruction of the vehicle. This could get expensive very fast and limited the market for these types of aerial vehicle. The RC industry is much more than a hobby today. Many models can be purchased quite cheap that have a small recording camera. The more advanced drones and UAV will be a great tool for businesses to realize. Long flight time and advanced technology make them an essential tool in their inventory.
Other applications using advanced sensors such as microwave and ultraviolet are used by scientists and the National Hurricane Center in Florida. They are involved with ocean monitoring and hurricane watch. Though not as common, they are essential for their work and the ability to predict up coming disasters and possible damage deflection. The FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) has been scrambling to regulate the use of these advanced systems.
Currently in the USA the drones and UAV's can fly as high as 400 feet (121.92 meters) with-out regulation. Many models can fly much higher. Some protests over privacy concerns have been raised also. The benefits from drones and UAV's much out weigh the potential privacy concerns how ever. Restrictions over heavily populated ares may be realized one day, but the technology has the potential to greatly increase security and make our lives easier and less dangerous in many situations.
A story of a bad weapon deployment from a military UAV will make the headlines but it rarely ever happens. The anti-protesters will dwell on the single incident and not realize the greater benefit these marvels of technology bring us.
Canada Special Flight Operations Certificate
USA Federal Aviation Administration